Sobriety checkpoints are one method law enforcement uses to combat drunk driving. Police officers often set up DWI roadblocks this time of year, as holiday weekends and vacation season are considered high drinking-and-driving periods. If you have encountered, or anticipate encountering, a DWI checkpoint in North Carolina, you may be curious about your rights at sobriety roadblocks.
Avoiding a DWI Checkpoint in Raleigh
Do not try to avoid a checkpoint if you approach one. Even if you are innocent of drunk driving, do not try to duck the sobriety checkpoint. If you turn around, law enforcement can follow you, and if you commit a traffic violation, officers may detain you. Most DWI checkpoints have several chase cars specifically for this purpose.
Your Legal Rights at a Checkpoint
When you reach the checkpoint, you must produce certain documents, such as a driver’s license and registration. However, you have a right not to interact with law enforcement officers. You are not even required to roll down your window.
Performing Standardized Field Sobriety Tests
There are three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFTS) that police officers may ask you to perform in a suspected DWI stop:
- Horizontal gaze nystagmus test
- One-leg stand test
- Walk-and-turn test
If you refuse to take these tests, you can’t be penalized. It is recommended that you refuse because the results are very subjective and the officer may not administer the tests correctly. Most of the time, the results lead to law enforcement offering, or compelling, you to take a chemical test like a Breathalyzer or a blood test.
Taking a Breath Test and/or Blood Test
An officer may ask you to blow into a portable preliminary breath test (PBT) device at the checkpoint. The results of this test are unreliable and can’t be used in court. You can refuse this test and there won’t be any consequence as far as license suspension goes. The officers can still arrest you if there is enough evidence.
If the result of the PBT shows your blood alcohol content (BAC) being past the legal limit, you will be asked to take a second test at a police station on an Intoxilyzer (breathalyzer). If you refuse, your driver’s license can be revoked for a year through a civil process. If you take the breathalyzer test and are found to have a BAC level that is past the limit, you could be found guilty; however, there can be issues with the Breathalyzer machine that cause false positives. To learn more, read our article entitled “If I Failed the DWI Breath Test, Am I Automatically Guilty?”
The next step could be a blood test. If officers ask you to submit to a blood test, and you don’t comply, they will probably get a search warrant to draw your blood and have it tested at a local lab.
The Rights of Law Enforcement
Police officers also have rights at DWI checkpoints. For example, they may not need search warrants to examine your vehicle for controlled substances. So, if an officer sees drugs in your car, including prescription drugs and certain over-the-counter medicines, your vehicle can be searched without a warrant.
Additionally, law enforcement officers do not need reasonable suspicion to detain motorists at checkpoints. However, if they suspect another crime has been committed, like auto theft, they must have reasonable suspicion to investigate it at a DWI checkpoint.
Finally, officers have the right to briefly detain motorists. If they develop reasonable suspicion of intoxication, they may direct the motorist to an inspection area and conduct a further investigation.
What to Do at a DWI Checkpoint
So much for some basic rules about a North Carolina DWI checkpoint. Now, here are some proper steps to consider when you encounter one:
- If the DWI checkpoint happens at night, and it usually does, turn on your car’s dome light and place your hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2.
- Have the aforementioned documents ready for inspection. Do not dig around for them when you are close to the officer, because many officers consider such moves threatening.
- Even if you refuse to interact, always be cooperative and respectful toward the stopping officer. Remember that the officer is armed, and an angry confrontation could end very badly.
- If the officer asks you to step out of your vehicle, follow those orders.
In sum, remain calm and collected at DWI checkpoints. In response to questions, only provide simple, clear, and direct answers to law enforcement.
If the encounter goes a step further and you are arrested, exercise your right to remain silent. At that point, there is no way to talk yourself out of the situation. Your statements simply give prosecutors more evidence to use against you in court. Instead, let an experienced Raleigh DWI lawyer do the arguing for you. Many times, these arguments can get the charges significantly reduced or dismissed altogether.
Speak with a Serious Raleigh DUI Attorney
For more information about the criminal law process, contact Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh, Attorneys at Law, and schedule a consultation with our Raleigh DWI lawyers today. Fill out the form to the right or call us at (919) 887-8040.